First, allow me to rehash what I said about this series in the announcement I posted about 1/12 weeks ago, if only for those who missed it to catch up.
It's exciting to know that there's a lot of interest in the annual Shadow & Act Black Filmmakers To Watch list I created in 2009.
And all the attention encouraged me to rethink how we approach the list in 2012 and forward. So, starting this year, two key changes that you all need to be aware of:
– First, say goodbye to the once-every-12-months list of 10 to 20 filmmakers, and say hello to what will be an ongoing series, profiling black filmmakers who we feel deserve individual spotlights. Each week, we're introduced to the works of black filmmakers (and we're considering the entire diaspora, not just black American filmmakers) that impress us enough, suggesting the idea that something continuous, throughout the year, makes more sense, than publishing a single list annualy. We want to highlight as many filmmakers as we can, especially in this climate that sees only a handful of *black films* every year that enjoy anything close to broad awareness; and also, in part, to combat the notion that there isn't enough variety in what stories we can tell, and how we choose to tell them. I think we get so distracted and depressed about what we don't have, that we tend to forget to appreciate those who are toiling away in creative silence/obscurity. And I realize it's best to show who/what else is out there that we don't already know about en masse, or that we do know about, but, for one reason or another, aren't paying as much attention to, as we probably should.
– Second, unlike previous years, our emphasis will be on relatively *unknown* filmmakers; our goal is to highlight those filmmakers who are producing work (whether still in film school, making short films, or veterans who've been making films for years, and everything between), but just haven't quite yet been *discovered* if you will (of course that's a loaded word, because it could mean any number of things, to any number of people; but instead of listing specific criteria, I'll just let the posts speak for themselves); essentially, filmmakers we believe are creating interesting work, who haven't received much attention, and who we believe you all should definitely know about (if you don't already). There's a reason why I've repeatedly requested that filmmakers we haven't covered, contact us, and introduce yourselves and your work; it's so that we can get to know you, and your work, for this purpose (and others). I continue to encourage that STRONGLY! As I've said before, we try to stay as connected and informed as we can; however, we don't know of every single black filmmaker and every single black film in circulation, every year. We rely on you folks to assist in providing some of that knowledge as well.
So now that you know all that… here's the first of many filmmakers who will be featured in this new S&A Black Filmmakers To Watch format – Canadian writer/director Alfons Adetuyi.
Alfons Adetuyi (photo below-left), joined by his brothers Amos, Robert and Tom (all in photo above), founded the Canada-based Inner City Films in 1987. Since then, he has directed and produced several critically-acclaimed and award winning television series and documentaries. Adetuyi launched the first co-production between Canada and South Africa, with the 1997 successful drama series Ekhaya, The Family Chronicle, and later, Jozi H, a 2006 medical drama series set in Johannesburg's world-renowned trauma center.
Adetuyi has several projects currently in the works. Earlier this year, he signed a three-picture deal with Ramoji Film City, a production company in India. The first of these is an adaptation of his 2009 documentary Ganesh, Boy Wonder, about a boy suffering from a congenital ailment; that will be followed up with Mumbai Showdown, an international spy comedy and the "time-shifting treasure hunt story" Chasing Gold.
His scripted fiction feature film directorial debut, titled High Chicago (previously covered enthusiastically on S&A), made its USA premiere at the Pan African Film Festival earlier this year.
The film stars black British thespian Colin Salmon, with Karen LeBlanc, Fulvio Cecere, Rob De Leeuw, John Robinson, and Sebastian Pigott round out the starring cast.
Set in 1975, the semi-autobiographical High Chicago (co-written with Alfons' brother Robert, who also co-exec produced the film) is a gritty drama about a 42-year-old husband and father of two, with a serious gambling addiction. Living on the edge of poverty in a northern mining town, though anxious for a change, with big dreams and ambitions, Sam loses his job; instead of admitting his failure to his wife, he almost destroys both his dream and his family, gambling each away, with his compulsive habit.
It's a well-acted, slow-burn of a drama that, for some reason, just hasn't quite caught on as we thought it would, even as it continues to travel the film festival circuit. Most recently, it played at the Black Harvest Film Festival just last month. And it'll screen at the Montreal International Black Film Festival this month.
I hope it makes its way to home video formats (including digital download or streaming) soon enough, so that the rest of you can check it out, as we uninanimously believe that Alfons Adetuyi is a filmmaker whose name and work you should definitely store in your memory banks.
We had a chance to chat with Alfons about High Chicago, his production and much more. That interview follows below (you'll find the trailer for High Chicago at the bottom of this post):
S&A: High Chicago is based on a true story. How did you get involved in the project? Was it a mutual idea? What attracted you to the story? Was the real life subject involved in any way?
AA: That’s an interesting question. Well, the person is my father. So both my brother and I had a mutual interest [laughs]. It’s a personal story. It’s set in 1975; what’s kind of funny about it is the fact that when my brother Rob started writing it, it wasn’t really a period piece, and he’s been trying to make this movie for a long time. He’d been working on it for so many years, and it was sort of his calling card piece when he went to L.A. as a writer, and it’s something he’s always wanted to do. We did two movies that year; one was called “Beat the World” and this story. Since we had been involved in both, he decided to direct “Beat the World” and I decided to direct “High Chicago.” It’s something that’s been mauling over for many years. I had to tell my dad’s story and essentially our story. Besides being a dreamer, he [my dad] was a gambler.
S&A: Did your dad know you guys were working on a story based on his life?
AA: Yeah, but unfortunately he passed away in 2006. He knew a script was in the works and he provided a lot of the anecdotes; so did my mom about the gambling and the situation. Actually, there’s many situations when I was reading Rob’s script that I thought, “wow, this is really good, the scenes are so dramatic and it really hits home you know?” Rob would just say to me, “I just went to mom’s and had some coffee with her. She just dictated what I had to write down” [laughs].
I would say the film is about, almost, 90 percent true. The town was based on the town of Copper City in Michigan. Where we grew up in, which is Sudbury, Ontario, is very similar to that city; so, I decided to set the story in Michigan. The protagonist is an American who was in the Navy from 1960 to 1965, and throughout this time, he went to [Nigeria] Africa and then he comes back to this small mining town, gets married and has kids. He ends up gambling to try to make ends meet, maybe drinking a little too much. What he did do, was have a blueprint made while he was in Africa of what he thought would be an interesting and successful business, since there was a huge amount of cars with no drive-in theaters. At that time in the U.S. and Canada, drive-ins were very popular, even in the 70’s. My dad did work in the mine in our town, and he was in the Navy, so all those things are true, but the one big difference between Sam and my father is that Sam wanted to do this business and reach out back to Nigeria and live there. The true story is that my dad is a Nigerian; he made the trip to North America, and had dreamed of going back. So, everything is the same except the fact that my dad came from Nigeria and tried to go back and set this thing up. So, it is a different perspective in that sense, that my dad is African, and in the film, Sam is an American.
S&A: How did the title “High Chicago” come about?
AA: High Chicago is Sam’s card game; the one he feels he could win at. The game in which he places everything in when he’s trying to get the money he needs to find work and make his dream happen from his blueprint. He knows gambling is not the right thing to do but he needs to do something for his family, make it a go at something, instead of his dead end job at the mine. He decides to play one last game, and that showdown game is called “High Chicago.”
S&A: Sudbury’s MPP, Rick Bartolucci, announced that the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corporation helped support the film. Is that correct?
AA: Yes. In Canada, we have a very good structure of supporting film through a number of government-sponsored initiatives, such as the tax credit and other grants. The northern part of Ontario has started its own funding. They were really happy to sponsor us, so they’ve been very supportive and put up half the budget for this film. They’d like us to come back and do more films. So, that’s what we’re going to do.
S&A: How did you find British actor Colin Salmon for the lead role of Sam?
AA: Our relationship goes back to over 10 years ago. I had developed a television series that we had proposed it to the CBC called “Front Page”, and Colin Salmon was going to be the lead. Unfortunately, the project didn’t go forward, but through that process, I got to meet him.
So, we kept tabs on him and what he was doing. I went to London to sit down with Colin. When the time came for this film, I thought even though he’s British, he could do an American accent, and he’s done a wonderful job. I don’t know if you’re familiar with his work, but he’s been underutilized. He should have been doing a lead role a long time ago. He has an amazing presence.
S&A: How did you go about casting the female lead Karen Leblanc? By the way, she was wonderful in Nurse.Fighter.Boy.
AA: Yes, that’s where I saw her, in Nurse.Fighter.Boy and I reached out to her. She was just amazing, a very talented woman and I enjoyed working with her soo much.
S&A: How was working with the rest of the cast?
AA: The whole supporting cast was incredible, which includes some great Canadian actors, John Robinson, Rob deLeeuw, Dylan Smith, Sebastian Pigott, Patrick [Garrow], who’s a lead in the movie; he’s one of my Poker players, and Eugene Clark, who plays Buzz. They’re all a great group of actors.
S&A: Do you have a dream project? Anything currently in the works?
Yes, there’s one called Moon Men; I can’t seem to get out of the seventies [laughs]. This one takes place in 1971. It’s an interesting story about when the astronauts first came to my town in Ontario. The film is about the effect of them coming to this small town, especially to my lead character and his family. It’s a little bit of mystery, also like a “Stand By Me” coming of age story, based on a true story. I’m doing re-writes of the script right now.
There’s another one based on a feature documentary I did called “Boy Wonder”. I just made a three-picture deal with Ramoji Film Studios [Ramoji Film City] in India adapting this story into a feature film. It’s going to have a Bollywood producer. This is one of the pictures.
S&A: Are you getting work offers? Are able to work steadily and earn a living?
To be able to make a living, I went into television. Not necessarily planned from the beginning, since I was more familiar with features, and had developed a few scripts. But features can take a long time to develop. I’m developing a couple of TV series right now. One is a sci-fi story called “The Watchers”. It’s an interesting, supernatural TV Series. The other one is called “Bounce”, about Hip-Hop artists from New York City that come to Canada to teach, that I developed with my brother. I have a preference for features, but television has its opportunities. It allows you more hours; there’s more demand, and it keeps you working. If you can do something innovating and fresh, it can be very rewarding.